The rise of the third estate

No one’s in charge. I didn’t think that’d be worse than having the bozos we had in charge. But it is.

You’d think the one thing our politicians would be competent at is politics. But they couldn’t even count votes.

We knew the White House was a vacuum. Congress is a vacuum. Wall Street is lie. Detroit and the era it represents is dust. Journalism is sinking like a wet witch.

Who’s in charge? It’s falling to us, the people. We’re in charge. Problem is, we’re not ready. We’ve used the internet so far to organize some knowledge and yell at each other. We are just beginning to create the tools to organize ourselves. If only the meltdown of every authority structure could have waited a few years. Then again, necessity is the mother of organization. New structures don’t replace old structures while they’re still in place. New structures fill voids. And, boy, do we have some voids to fill.

Two paragraphs from the end of my book:

Whatever causes they take up, Generation G will be able to organize without organizations, as Clay Shirky wrote in Here Comes Everybody. That ability to coalesce will have a profound destabilizing impact on organizations. We can organize bypassing governments, borders, political parties, companies, academic institutions, religious groups, and ethnic groups, inevitably reducing their power and hold on our lives. In an essay in Foreign Affairs in 2008, Richard Haass argued that the world structure is moving from bi- and unipolarity (i.e., the Cold War and its aftermath) to nonpolarity (i.e., no one’s in charge). We are in an open marketplace of influence. Google makes it possible to broadcast our interests and find, organize, and act in concert with others. One need no longer control institutions to control agendas.

Haass chronicles the dilution of governments. Bloggers Umair Haque and Fred Wilson have written about the fall of the firm, and earlier I examined the idea that networks are becoming more efficient than corporations. In my blog, I follow the crumbling of the power of the fourth estate, the press. One could debate the stature and power of the first estate, the church. What’s left? The internet is fueling the rise of the third estate—the rise of the people. That might bode anarchy except that the internet also brings the power to organize.

Our organization is ad hoc. We can find and take action with people of like interest, need, opinion, taste, background, and worldview anywhere in the world. I hope this could lead to a new growth in individual leadership: Online, you can accomplish what you want alone and you can gather a group to collaborate. Being out of power need not be an excuse or a bar from seeking power. That may encourage more involvement in communities and nations—witness the youth armies that gathered in Facebook around Barack Obama, a powerful lesson for a generation to have learned.

But in the pinch and crunch, we still haven’t managed to elect candidates truly of the people: the first politician to emerge from the web. We haven’t created financial networks of scale; is cute but it’s not the next BofA. We are only beginning to organize the new infrastructure of information and news; Wikipedia and Digg are fast and big but shallow.

I’m reminded of Bob Garfield’s chaos scenario for advertising, in which he argued that the old media world would crumble before the new media world was ready for marketers and advertising dollars would fall into the crevice between. That is what is happening with our political and financial and industrial and journalistic leadership. The old is crumbling fast — and angry voters yesterday helped push it over the cliff. But what now?

  • You are ‘right on’. I was in the IR/PR business for 10+ years. We were pioneers back then; and lost our way after the dot com bust. They still haven’t figured out how to use social networking as a vehicle for communication. And real journalism is hiding somewhere under a rock or is the editors.

    With regard to Detroit: Grew up in suburban Detroit. My grandfather came to this country in the 20s and worked for Ford for nearly forty years. Detroit was once a great innovative city. Design, engineering, production. It died during the gas embargo of the 70s. I left in 1981 and haven’t been back since.

    It’s unfortunate that the leadership we’ve had to tolerate for decades is blind to real change for ALL not just the few.

  • We should take out a mortgage on that house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC

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  • I think we need some rules on the Internet, particularly in regard to copyright theft and pornography. Not having rules that are enforced is resulting in vigilante acts by the broadband providers (ie they are shutting down people using bittorrent and webcam products, whether they are illegal or not).

    Its a vicious circle, you reap what you sow, and the carefree laissez faire attitude prevalent on the Internet has started to result in some ugly consequences.

  • I don’t think this vote is The Beginning of The End. The administration and Congressional leadership tried to practice Consensus By Sledgehammer, and failed; rightfully so. Now they’ll have to go back and do it right, as they should have done from the start: listen, negotiate, compromise, deal with the people’s concerns.

    I think you have the big picture right, though. Power is in the process of shifting from top-down structures to bottom-up ones; and many people will notice the former and not the latter, and conclude that we are sliding into anarchy. (The David Brooks essay you link is a neat example of that.)

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  • Walter Abbott


    Some call it Freedom. Sort of like the type that was abroad when we won independence from England in the late 1700’s.

  • I want to be optimistic, and I believe that while we have tough times ahead of us this is also a time of opportunity: as you mention, when things are starting to fail it makes room for new options.
    This is a crisis of the system, and there has been energy building around the idea that the system needs to be reconsidered. We have social media, people have realized that they participate, influence (Yochai Benkler – Wealth of Networks), and social business is making its way into the mainstream. Here comes the time for us to implement these ideas that have been brewing. This is where I expect the next big thing to come from.

    With the crisis happening now, the words from Muhammad Yunus “capitalism is a half-developed structure” come back to mind.
    And what he develops in the first chapter of his book “Creating a world without poverty – social business and the future of capitalism” resonate even more deeply:
    “Capitalism takes a narrow view of human nature, assuming that people are one-dimensional beings concerned only with the pursuit of maximum profit. The concept of the free market, as generally understood, is based on this one-dimensional human being. Mainstream free-market theory postulates that you are contributing to the society and the world in the best possible manner if you just concentrate on getting the most for yourself.”

    If we are going to fix this system, I would like to follow Muhammad Yunus train of thoughts:
    “The presence of our multi-dimensional personalities means that not every business should be bound to serve the single objective of profit maximization”
    This is also what Bo Burlingham puts forward when he presents “Small Giants – companies that choose to be great instead of big”.

    For a “what now” I am thinking social business, bringing the human back into the equation…

  • VERY right-on, Marc Dangeard…

    I’m reminded of the Doonesbury cartoon in which an associate of Uncle Duke’s, a brilliant Indian surgeon, is attempting to transplant the heart of a liberal into an ailing conservative. He tells Duke that what he’s hoping for is someone ‘who’ll act out of a sense of enlightened self-interest’…to which Duke retorts “Yeah – but what happens if you just get a BIGOT who likes BRIE?” The surgeon nonchalently replies “I’ll pull the PLUG…I take pride in my work…”

    I was having just this sort of discussion you point up with the conservatives in our advertising department at the paper, and explaining to one enquiring mind the ‘why’ of the nation’s current financial crisis – namely the wholesale deregulation of industry begun under the Reagan administration. My own salesman, an ‘enlightened’ conservative, accused me of giving this questioner ‘the NPR version’ of events, at which point I rounded on him and hit him with hard science (my last and typically most effective resort.) “Look,” I said, “this is NOT a condition exclusive to HUMANS: most of your higher carbon-based lifeforms will HOARD WEALTH as a hedge to ensure survival: SQUIRRELS do it, though they don’t always remember where they BURY the NUTS, CHIPMUNKS do it, HAMSTERS do it…” (okay, admittedly, I was favoring rodents here…I really meant to draw no comparisons) “…so it’s it’s an entirely natural principle of PHYSICS.”

    Essentially, two factors were responsible for the current crisis: the decline of the moral/ethical fabric of *REAL* religion in this country that provided the social glue to hold society and family together, and the rise of materialistic worship as a substitute. There is no one set event one can point to where either of these processes commenced – both have been ongoing gestalts for an indefinite amount of time. Let me add that my mention of religion is NOT intended to include the fundamentalism of the current ‘religious right’ in this country – I am referring rather to the moral/ethical compass that was once a mainstay of MOST Christian churches, which filtered its way into our society via the practices of the individuals who attended these churches. As people have given up support of these religious institutions and focuses instead on their worship of the almighty dollar, it has become ‘ethically conscionable’ to ‘screw thy neighbor’ in the name of greed.

    Capitalism, bereft of any social conscience, simply does not work. Period. What happens is shown in our own country: we have gone from being a Democracy to our current status as a Plutocratic Oligarchy: rule by the wealthy few. This wealthy few care about we, the people, only insofar as our consumption continues to fill their coffers. It’s the ‘Haves’ vs. the ‘Have-Nots,’ as it has always been….from time immemorial…

    “Only when the last tree has withered, the last fish has been caught, and the last river has been poisoned, will you realize you cannot eat money.”
    —Unknown Cree Native American, addressing the white man

  • Andy Freeman

    > Capitalism takes a narrow view of human nature, assuming that people are one-dimensional beings concerned only with the pursuit of maximum profit.

    No, it isn’t. Capitalism takes the view that each of us gets to decide what is important to us and act on that in concert with like-minded people.

    The failure was a govt “encouraged” edict that banks should loan money to people who had little chance of paying it back. Dems pushed this and Repubs were insufficiently vigorous in opposing it.

    Of course, if you’re wont to believe the usual “it’s all about money”, note that Wall Street’s campaign contributions almost all go to Dems.

  • Michael R. Bernstein

    I must also say that this characterization of Capitalism is mistaken, if only because it is actually Economics that fits the description ‘assuming that people are one-dimensional beings concerned only with the pursuit of maximum profit.’

    And even Economics doesn’t fit that particular description very well anymore, as it has been (over the last few decades) turning away from the view that markets can be adequately described as collections of rational actors acting in their clear self-interest. Economics has also been turning away from the view that unregulated markets inevitably act to maximize overall well-being.

    In a strictly limited sense, unregulated markets may maximize average well-being in the short term, but do much more poorly for mean well-being, and over the long term, accelerating inequalities can lead to additional costs even at the top of the food-chain (extreme examples are food-riots and epidemics) and more violent boom-and-bust cycles.

  • I loved this post, but I don’t know what to think of what lies ahead. On the one hand, we now have the instantaneous communication necessary for a truly representative government, and at east the advisors to politicians know how to use the tools.

    On the other hand, we seem to have a populace that thinks Sarah Palin represents us because she’s “Joe Six-Pack.” The entire concept of the President as a world leader has given way over the past ten years (roughly from Clinton’s blow job thru Dubya) to distrust of anyone who knows anything about issues in favor of someone you’d like to have a beer with.

    Scoble’s been having an internal debate with himself about whether crowdsourcing will work or not, and I’m right there with him in my ambivalent position. The good thing is we voted down the bailout. The bad thing is we may have voted it down for the wrong reasons: we (Main Street) didn’t think the current financial crisis affects “us.” We thought we were only bailing out “them.”

    Until people recognize that the internet, for better or worse, has made us all interconnected in ways we might not have been previously, we will not be able to seize the reins of our government in a responsible way.

    Pray fr us.

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  • Andy Freeman

    > In a strictly limited sense, unregulated markets may maximize average well-being in the short term, but do much more poorly for mean well-being, and over the long term, accelerating inequalities can lead to additional costs even at the top of the food-chain (extreme examples are food-riots and epidemics) and more violent boom-and-bust cycles.

    Mean is average. Perhaps the author meant median. (Bill Gates coming to town changes the mean wealth a lot but barely changes the median.)

    Ignoring mathematical issues (which is a stretch, given the technical tone of the above), an example of the phenomena described would have been a good thing.

    Yes, there are places where the rich get rich and the poor are deprived, but they’re not “unregulated economies” – they’re govt-run economies. Some use formal oppression systems while others don’t bother, but they’re not unregulated in any meaningful sense.

    As to the US (which isn’t unregulated, but let’s assume for the sake of argument that it is), our inequality leads to poor folks with multiple TVs, cell phones, obesity, and the like. Food riots? Yeah right.

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  • “Wall Street is lie.”

    No, it’s not, Jeff. You’re dead wrong about that.

    You are confusing the rot that necessarily sets in when government presumes to intercede in affairs of that sort. The “lie” comes from Washington. You ought to get this straight.

    You’re wrong.

  • What now? As the impassess of a top down world are increasingly felt across significant areas, isn’t it time to to acknowledge that if wed on’t do something about it we’ll only get more of the same – but worse?

    It’s time for game change! to start paving the way to change the prevailing paradigms into a borttom-up Icentered paradigm. ( where, we, individuals are at the center, with the wheel in our hands and collaboratively define a new pact of relations with the entities we interact with (providers, organizations, social sphere).

    It’s easiest to start with the 3rd estate of the internet and make it truly a web of life – as it is OUR web and increasingly our virtual habitat. Once the internet is turned on its head to enable a true vantage points of individuals as micro universes of one with distinct needs and wishes, communities will arise to enable it in a groundswell process and next generations leaders and orders will emerge and infiltrate into the brick and mortat world as well because the borders are increasingly blurring.

    More on Being Icentered and collaboratively defining the blueprint for an Icentered paradigm in

  • FC

    Now what?
    Odd paradox.
    ““It’s an odd paradox that this will shrink even further any kind of public space to talk about race,” says Angela Dillard, a professor of Afro-American and African studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the article. “That shouldn’t be possible, but it is.”

    Glenn Loury, a Brown University economist, says that an Obama victory would weaken arguments for affirmative action. Black voters, he said, “are voting for the end of affirmative action and they don’t even know it.

    “They’re voting for the end of race and they don’t even know it,” said Mr. Loury, who is black.”

    “Then what will we do as race scholars?” wondered University of Virginia political scientist Lynn Sanders.

    “But in March, as he watched Obama’s race speech in Philadelphia, Steinberg, who is white, e-mailed his surprise at what he was hearing: “His candidacy hinged on putting a happy face on racism, and here he reveals, to his credit, knowledge and compassion about racism and its tentacles into the present. He was running away from history, and this has forced him to talk about the past, which blows away his transcendental cover.””

    “”I think it will be hugely positive if (Obama) wins, because there will be this possibility of a more genuine conversation between scholars of different orientations,” said Sanders, who with Donald Kinder authored “Divided by Color.”

    “I think it will mess up the congestion in a way that will be very healthy. I can’t wait for that part of it.””

    I guess for academics it’s a study. It could turn into a mess and fuel racist hate groups and violence against minorities. It could be a new “affirmative action” with poor whites feeling threatened. It could be very unhealthy and the academics will take no credit for that. People don’t even know what they are voting for. They are voting for big money.

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